US students want financial planning and other life skills education, survey finds

FILE - A worker uses an impact driver to change a tire at a CarMax dealership in Albany, New York, US, on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images

How well do high schools and universities prepare students for the real world? Not well, according to some recent U.S. graduates and other Americans in a new survey.

The poll of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted in January by the web-based study platform Quizlet, aimed to explore recent high school and college graduates' confidence and competency in basic life skills – such as financial planning, auto maintenance, cooking and more.

About one-third of recent graduates said they don’t believe they have, or are unsure if they have, the financial and core life skills needed to succeed in the world, according to the survey results. 

Roughly 68% of recent graduates said they think non-academically focused courses in schools would better prepare students for the real world.  

Nearly one in five recent graduates said they are the least confident in handling automotive maintenance, such as changing a tire or their oil. This was followed by financial planning (17%), insurance (12%), minor home repairs (11%), cooking (11%), cleaning (8%) and organizing (8%), the survey found. 

A majority (79%) of recent graduates said financial planning overwhelmed them the most, and 29% of respondents said it negatively impacts their mental health.

Meanwhile, respondents to the survey said social media was helping to fill the skills gap, with 33% of recent graduates turning to it for life skills knowledge.

"I think everyone would agree that giving young people the tools and knowledge to confidently take on the world is in all of our best interests," Angel Davis, a fourth-year student at NYU and social media assistant for Quizlet, said in a statement. 

The survey included 500 individuals "who indicated that they had graduated from high school in the past two years," and 500 who said they graduated from college in the past two years. Another 1,002 participants were from "the broader U.S. general population, who were not required to meet any education stipulations," Quizlet said.

Recent grads lack financial confidence, survey finds

Tax planning, saving for emergencies, debt management and managing credit were the top aspects of financial planning that seem to cause recent graduates the most stress, according to the survey. 

A majority (56%) of recent graduates said they have a lack of confidence in their ability to budget and manage long-term finances, such as a 401(K) or credit score. Some 60% said the same about their ability to invest money.

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Females in Gen Z, or those born between 1997 and 2012, said insurance (84%) is the most overwhelming aspect of long-term investing and planning. Financial planning (83%) and automotive insurance (83%) tied for second, according to Quizlet’s survey.

Gen Z males said they’re most overwhelmed by financial planning (85%), followed by organizing (81%) and insurance (81%).

Generations agree: Financial literacy and planning is important

Recent graduates in the survey said financial planning (45%), time management (38%) and emotional well-being/management (37%) are the top three non-academic courses that would have helped them succeed more if they had been taught in school. 

Across generations, the survey's Gen Z to Boomer respondents agreed, according to Quizlet. Respondents also cited financial literacy as the top non-academic course they would have benefited from the most had it been offered in their school years.

Skills like critical thinking and communication were also identified as courses that survey respondents believed would have helped them succeed.

The findings come as Americans face many financial stressors often highlighted in the news cycle, like high inflation and the resumption of student loan repayment. Some schools have begun offering financial courses, and even Walmart announced last year that it would offer a free financial literacy course.

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"Recent graduates face a tough job market, high cost of living and inflation, so it's no surprise that students want essential life skills, like financial literacy, covered in their formal education," Caroline Walthall, Quizlet’s director of product and lifecycle marketing, said in a statement. 

"These findings highlight that students are hungry for information that can help them feel more ready for the real world," Walthall continued. "Increased attention to these skill gaps should also improve mental well-being and confidence in the process."

This story was reported from Cincinnati.